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FelixM Online

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18.12.2016 15:27
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As a freight guard at Canton from 1970 to 77, and one of those referred to earlier in this correspondence as being recruited 'off the street', much of this is familiar to me. I actually wanted to do the job as close to properly as I could manage, but the truth is that the quality of the new staff was not high, and those of us that were a bit interested had to prove ourselves to the drivers before we were properly accepted.

The job was what you made it, but conditions were pretty basic even by 1970s standards, never mind nowadays when they would not be tolerated by anyone. The overall conditions had been, presumably, acceptable in Victorian times and nothing had been done in many places since then to improve them, The pay wasn't brilliant, either, but with shift allowance and a mileage bonus it was better than being in an office or a shop, and much more interesting. The standard van, from what I could tell identical to the LNER 20 tonner except that the LNER one had a better stove, was a) not particularly effective as a brake van (drivers would tell me that the GW Toads gave a much more powerful brake), though I can't confirm this from personal experience, b) prone to unsteady riding, in my view because the concrete ballast weights were outboard of the axles, making the van 'hunt', and c) draughty, because they were poorly build out of planking to start with and then the poor ride 'worked' the structure so that draught came in everywhere. Yesterday's paper and some spit were essential to seal the gaps, and because the stove wouldn't draw at low speeds, it was a pain picking a train up from Radyr and having to spend the first hour or so negotiating the North Curve and Cardiff Central station, for example. If you were on top of the job, you'd start feeling a bit of warmth from the stove about half way to Newport, by which time you'd just about found all the draughts and sealed them with newspaper. There were some vans fitted with roller bearings and coil springs which rode much better.

In the good old days, about which I was told much but never experienced, i.e 2 years before and pre 1968, guards booked on at freight yards and vans were allocated to the yards and to individual jobs from them. That meant that they were generally kept clean and in good order; by 1970 they were anything but and mostly filthy beyond description, though some jobs still had vans allocated to them, such as the Canton Sidings-Calvert bricks which had a van attached from Lawrence Hill, Bristol, which used to be kept reasonably decent. This was my only regular brake van job over the Box Tunnel route, not to mention being a day turn, and I used to rather enjoy it.

The riding was sometimes bad enough to knock the oil lamps out, not a big issue on the side lamps because you could see what had happened and re-light them, but the tail lamp, the main point of having lamp brackets on the thing in the first place, was out of sight.

I actually preferred the LMS vans, with the ballast located under the van body and giving a better ride; they were less draughty and although they took longer to warm up, a much nicer place to work once the stove had taken the chill off. I once rode from Cardiff to Hereford on a frosty winter's morning in an SECR pillbox van which claimed on it's builder's plate to have been built (using the term in it's loosest sense) at Ashford in 1913, an experience I am happy to have never repeated. Despite the diminutive cabin, it was impossible to get warm, there was ice on the inside of the windows, and we were stopped at every box because the lights had been knocked out by the rocking; I used an entire box of Swan Vestas that trip. You could report it to C & W til you were blue in the face, nothing was ever done about it.

Having suffered the deprivations of the vans, you then had to use mess rooms which were variable in quality at whatever depot you'd ended up at; electricity was still considered a newfangled tool of satan in some places. A typical job at Canton would be to book on, find your driver and secondman if you had one, and, while they prepped the loco, make a can of tea for everyone. They you would act secondman if necessary (the single manning agreement allowed this for up to 15 miles from your home depot outward bound, and an unlimited distance homeward) to whatever yard you were picking your train up from, finishing the tea on the way, and 'prepare' your train. At some yards, this was a formality and you could rely on the yard's own staff to have put everything in order for you. At Radyr and Llantrisant they would even lay the fire in the stove. But there were places where you had do everything yourself, including 'obtaining' the coal for the stove, enough for the train's whole journey, a real problem at Margam where the messrooms were all-electric; you could have too much modernity...

Train prepping meant checking that doors and loads were properly secure, couplings correctly in position, a brake test, and ensuring the van had lamps properly trimmed and in working condition, putting them on the brackets, lighting them if it was dark or a tunnel of over 400 yards was on your route, or during fog or falling snow, and that your van had aboard it a brake stick, shunting pole, and two pairs of track circuit clips. There was usually a milk bottle full of paraffin for the lamps as well; I cannot remember now if this was a requisite according to the rules. Used sparingly, it sometimes came in very handy if you were having trouble getting the stove going... GW toads had carried a first aid kit as well, and the guards had to have first aid training to hold the post; this had all gone by the board by my time! Then you would walk back up the other side of the train checking that, and go to the shunter's cabin to tell the yard foreman that you were satisfied and ready to go, assuming you were, signing the train preparation sheet, load sheet, and the driver's slip, which detailed the load, brake force, length of the train and maximum allowed speed of the stock and was your authority to him to proceed. You would then go back on to the loco and give it to him, and he would then tap the horn to alert the yard staff that he was about to move off, and draw up to the yard exit signal. This would usually clear before he'd got there, and before you had walked back to the van, so he would not pick up beyond a walking pace until you'd climbed onto the van and 'given the tip'; signalled that you were there and the train was complete, theoretically with a green flag but usually with the newspaper you were about to draughtproof the van with, or your handlamp at night of course. He would return the signal, either in like fashion or with a tap on the locos's rear horn, and you'd be away!

Your job was now to repeat the 'tip' if needed over speed restrictions or starting from any stop en route, show the correct sidelamps when you were in loops or on relief lines (the one nearest the fast running line had to show white to the rear as well as forward instead of the normal red; they had removable shades to achieve this), and apply the handbrake when the train was slowing or travelling downhill. This is the reason you had to sign for your route familiarity; obviously you had to know where the downhill banks were, even if it was dark and foggy, and where to take the brake off at the bottom as well. This was because the trains were 'loose coupled', and there were gaps between the buffer heads of adjoining wagons. Get it wrong and, as well as failing to control the train's speed, you would have a violent 'snatch' as the loco picked up power at the bottom of the bank. As well as being a danger to you unless you were braced in the seat, which had shoulder pads for protection, you stood a good chance of breaking a coupling and being left behind, in which case you were in for a long walk as you went back to the next box to protect your train. And, when it was dark and foggy, it wasn't as easy as it sounds and you had to keep your wits about you!

What happened next was dependent on the working, You might work the train to it's destination, in which case you would take the lamps in and blow them out, hand the load slip to the yard foreman, and climb back onto the loco to run to the shed. Or you would, more usually with the long distance main line work we had at Canton, be relieved by a crew from another depot who would take the train on. You'd then make your way to the depot's signing on point for orders, or information about your return working if you had one. The driver was entitled to a 20 minute break between his 3rd and 5th hour, and it'd be about that by now, and since you and the secondman couldn't go anywhere without him, you had your break with him. At this point tradition demanded it was time for the driver to make the tea, and I would usually try to get some food eaten at this time as well.

Of course, by 1970, not all the work was loose coupled trains with brake vans; there was an amount of 'back cab' work, fully fitted trains in which you rode in the back cab of the loco and on which you were spared the terrors of the vans but might have your spine battered by a bad riding loco, particularly Class 25 which were diabolical at any sort of speed, and the 'Westerns' which were dreadful at around 60 mph but lovely at any other speed. On single manned jobs with such trains, most drivers preferred you to ride with them, on the basis that safety was improved if someone else was observing and confirming the signals, and for sociability, and inevitably, back cab work became more common and brake van work less so over time. I would have to agree with a comment above, though, that on a sunny afternoon with a good riding van when you were out on the rear balcony to stay cool, there was no better way of earning a living and it was possible to overlook SECR vans and freezing mornings...

Viele Grüße


blackmoor_vale, TheJacobite, Class150 und OBD_76 haben sich bedankt!
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